Blog

Florida’s Living Labor Legend Retires

by Mark McCullough  |  June 30, 2015

Florida’s Living Labor Legend Retires After a long and distinguished career, Council 79 President Jeanette Wynn celebrated her retirement at a reception full of hugs, tears and stories following the recent AFSCME Strong Training Conference held in Altamont Springs, Florida.

ALTAMONT SPRINGS, Fla. – Located almost an hour to the northwest of the Capitol in Tallahassee and nestled along the border with Georgia, the city of Chattahoochee, Florida, in Gadsden County is a rural small town surrounded by tobacco farms.

But these tobacco farms gave rise to arguably the state’s most important labor leader when Jeanette Wynn returned home from college and began work in September 1970 at the Florida State Hospital, the state’s largest public mental institution.

Now, after a long and distinguished career, Wynn celebrated her retirement at a reception full of hugs, tears and stories following the recent AFSCME Strong Training Conference held here.

Labor, civic and political leaders from across the state and around the country took to the podium to thank Wynn for her leadership, to share the impact she has had on their lives and to acknowledge that though she may be “retired,” they know she will continue to be guiding them and pushing them to keep up the fight for Florida’s working families.

“Don’t forget that I will be looking over your shoulder,” Wynn joked with the crowd. “So don’t make me tap you and your shoulder and remind you to never look back, always keep looking forward, always keep marching on to victory.” 

Wynn became one of the first state employees to join AFSCME after its certification as the collective bargaining agent for most state employees in 1976, just one of many firsts. She was a member of Council 79’s first executive board and was the first secretary-treasurer of Local 1963. In 1983, she earned her first AFSCME Florida statewide office as Council 79 secretary-treasurer after seven years as president of Local 1963, and was elected Council 79 president in 1998. She became an AFSCME International vice president in 1996.

“I’ve never done this alone. we’ve done this together,” said Wynn. “Yes, so much has come against us along the way but God has always been on our side.”

She received numerous awards over the years, including one from the United Farm Workers for her leadership in building the coalition of black and Latino farm workers back in Gadsden County that led to the successful organizing drive in 1998 at Quincy Farms, one of the country’s largest mushroom farms. She also organized the “Coalition of Conscience” in 2000 to oppose Gov. Jeb Bush’s “One Florida” plan to eliminate affirmative action in hiring, contracting and education, which brought 30,000 people came to the state capitol to protest.

Wynn’s fight for AFSCME members included defeating what would have been the nation’s largest prison privatization in 2012. And just last year, under Wynn’s leadership, AFSCME teamed up with the ACLU to challenge in court Gov. Rick Scott’s random drug-testing policy. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, essentially agreeing with lower courts that Governor Scott’s policy to test all state workers was unconstitutional.

“We’ve hung in there this long against their attacks by staying on our toes so I know we can do something new again,” said Wynn in a rousing speech. “Let’s do it again sisters and brothers. We can do it because we always have a greater power on our side.

“Stand tall for righteousness, for the working man, for what is right for the people,” she said. “March on, march on. Organize, organize.”  

Ohio U. Student Workers Demand Union

by Will Klatt  |  June 30, 2015

Ohio U. Student Workers Demand Union Resident Assistants and their supporters rally for better pay and a voice on the job at Ohio University. (Photo: Casi Arnold)

Plagued by poverty wages and soaring tuition costs, hundreds of student workers at Ohio University have banded together to form a union in partnership with AFSCME’s Ohio Council 8 to negotiate for fair pay and gain a voice in setting their working conditions.

In just more than two months, an overwelming majority of the 257 resident assistants (RAs) at the Athens campus signed membership cards to form a union. Resident assistants live and work in the university’s resident halls, where they provide programming and enforce university safety regulations.

They are the first of many departments that have reached out to AFSCME to express interest in forming a union. Eddie Smith, president of the Graduate Student Senate, noted, “At Ohio University, there are more students on a graduate assistantship performing basic teaching, research or administrative support than there are faculty, administrators or classified staff employees. Hands down we are the biggest and most underrepresented labor force in this university. Unionizing has become a ‘no-brainer’ for us.”

The use of low-wage student workers at Ohio University stands in stark contrast to the university’s decision to buy a $1.2 million mansion for OU’s president while refusing to give student workers a living wage – an issue that came to a head in March when a coalition of more than 400 student workers, professors and AFSCME-affiliated classified staff protested the university’s funding priorities. Watch a video of the demonstration here.

Ohio University’s use of low-wage student workers is not unique. Many public universities have opted to move more work onto nonunionized student workers at the expense of fulltime unionized positions. Raising the RAs’ wages through unionization decreases the incentive of university administrations to use students as low-wage workers, while also bringing hundreds of young workers into the labor movement.

Pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act Now!

by Christopher M. Crump  |  June 30, 2015

Pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act Now! In an effort to strengthen the Voting Rights Act (VRA), 50 years old in August, AFSCME members rallied last week in Roanoke, Virginia, with other progressive organizations to urge Congress to preserve the right to vote for all Americans.

In an effort to strengthen the Voting Rights Act (VRA), 50 years old in August, AFSCME members rallied last week in Roanoke, Virginia, with other progressive organizations to urge Congress to pass an amendment by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy to preserve the right to vote for all Americans.

First enacted in 1965 by Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson, the VRA was intended to prohibit racial discrimination in the voting process. But in 2013, the Supreme Court unraveled many critical voting protections that have been in place since the act’s passage.

That decision, known as Shelby v. Holder, came just as many states were enacting discriminatory Voter ID laws. North Carolina, for example, enacted a voter ID law in 2013 that left more than 300,000 Carolinians unable to vote simply because they did not have an acceptable form of identification.

AFSCME, a strong defender of equal voting protections for all under the law, last year strongly endorsed the Voting Rights Amendment Act (S. 1945) introduced by Senator Leahy. Reintroduced this year, the measure should be passed soon so courts will again have the power to ensure that our voting laws are constitutional.

Roanoke was chosen for last week’s rally because it is represented by Rep. Robert Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the legislation. The activists want the congressman to hold a hearing to see for himself evidence of discrimination at the polls.

“Hold a hearing, Mr. Chairman!” shouted Brenda Hale, president of the Roanoke Branch of the NAACP. “You’ll hear the evidence [of discrimination].”

Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner previously announced their support of the VRAA.

The rally, which lasted several hours, was sponsored by the NAACP, the AFL-CIO and the Democracy Initiative, among other groups. Participants came from all over the mid-Atlantic region, including Virginia’s Tidewater and the DC metropolitan area. 

Lawsuit Seeks to Curtail Freedom of Firefighters, Teachers, Nurses, First-Responders to Stick Together and Advocate for Better Public Services, Better Communities

June 30, 2015

Lawsuit Seeks to Curtail Freedom of Firefighters, Teachers, Nurses, First-Responders to Stick Together and Advocate for Better Public Services, Better Communities

WASHINGTON — AFSCME President Lee Saunders, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, AFT President Randi Weingarten, CTA President Eric C. Heins, and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry issued the following joint statement today in response to U.S. Supreme Court granting cert to Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association:

“We are disappointed that at a time when big corporations and the wealthy few are rewriting the rules in their favor, knocking American families and our entire economy off-balance, the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America — that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to provide for your family and live a decent life. 

“The Supreme Court is revisiting decisions that have made it possible for people to stick together for a voice at work and in their communities — decisions that have stood for more than 35 years — and that have allowed people to work together for better public services and vibrant communities.

“When people come together in a union, they can help make sure that our communities have jobs that support our families. It means teachers can stand up for their students. First responders can push for critical equipment to protect us. And social workers can advocate effectively for children’s safety.

“America can’t build a strong future if people can’t come together to improve their work and their families’ futures. Moms and dads across the country have been standing up in the thousands to call for higher wages and unions. We hope the Supreme Court heeds their voices.”

And public servants are speaking out, too, about how Friedrichs v. CTA would undermine their ability to provide vital services the public depends on. In their own words:

“As a mental health worker, my colleagues and I see clients who are getting younger and more physical. Every day we do our best work to serve them and keep them safe, but the risk of injury and attack is a sad, scary reality of the job. But if my coworkers and I come together and have a collective voice on the job, we can advocate for better patient care, better training and equipment, and safe staffing levels. This is about all of us. We all deserve safety and dignity on the job, because we work incredibly hard every day and it’s certainly not glamorous.”

—Kelly Druskis-Abreu, AFSCME member, a mental health worker from Worcester, Mass.

“As a school campus monitor, my job is to be on the front lines to make sure our students are safe. Both parents and students count on me — it’s a responsibility that I take very seriously. It’s important for me to have the right to voice concerns over anything that might impede the safety of my students, and jeopardizing my ability to speak up for them is a risk for everyone.”

—Carol Peek, a school campus security guard from Ventura, Calif.

“I love my students, and I want them to have everything they need to get a high-quality public education. When educators come together, we can speak with the district about class size, about adequate staffing, about the need for counselors, nurses, media specialists and librarians in schools. And we can advocate for better practices that serve our kids. With that collective voice, we can have conversations with the district that we probably wouldn’t be able to have otherwise ― and do it while engaging our communities, our parents and our students.”

—Kimberly Colbert, a classroom teacher from St. Paul, Minn.

“Our number one job is to protect at-risk children. Working together, front-line social workers and investigators have raised standards and improved policies that keep kids safe from abuse and neglect. I can't understand why the Supreme Court would consider a case that could make it harder for us to advocate for the children and families we serve — this work is just too important.”

—Ethel Everett, a child protection worker from Springfield, Mass.

ALEC Wants to Indoctrinate High School Students

by Omar Tewfik  |  June 29, 2015

ALEC Wants to Indoctrinate High School Students ALEC, the corporate front for right-wing “model” state legislation such as the right-to-work scam, is now working to politically indoctrinate America’s young people with a high school graduation requirement that promotes its extremist views.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate front for right-wing “model” state legislation such as the  right-to-work scam, is now working to politically indoctrinate America’s young people with a high school graduation requirement that promotes its extremist views.

The “Founding Philosophy and Principles Act,” a bill that ALEC has quietly pushed since 2010, would require high school students to pass a semester-long course on the “founding philosophy and principles” of the United States in order to graduate.  That may sound like a harmless civics course, but the measure, which popped up in the legislature in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina (where it passed the Senate), has raised concerns among parents and teachers.

Lisa Lewis, an AFSCME Local 1644 member from Atlanta whose son will be a high school senior next year, says she is concerned about political indoctrination by ALEC. “ALEC’s beliefs are not what I want my child to be taught in school,” she said. “I would not like him to be taught a course on other people’s [political] morals and beliefs and then be held accountable to believe in those morals and beliefs in order to pass high school.

It’s apparently not enough for ALEC to go after the working class, now they’re going after the children,” Lewis said. “That’s not right.”

The legislation would require students to learn about the country’s founding philosophy and principles through the prism of ALEC’s own anti-government, anti-worker perspective by focusing on “constitutional limitations on government power to tax and spend and prompt payment of public debt” – essentially promoting the right-wing push for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The curriculum is designed to teach students to exercise “eternal vigilance” against any form of government spending, and to hold students accountable to espouse the belief that government spending is contrary to the principles of “a virtuous and moral people.”

In making a play for the minds and hearts of our schoolchildren, ALEC hopes to promote its own version of virtues and morality, which includes drastic cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, among other important social and economic programs. 

Union Involvement Was Key to Job Satisfaction

by Mark McCullough  |  June 29, 2015

Union Involvement Was Key to Job Satisfaction Edgardo Marrero knew he had to do something and that something was to get involved with his union, AFSCME Local 199.

Eight years ago, Edgardo Marrero realized things had to change. Staff morale in Miami-Dade County’s Animal Services department was at an all-time low. The workers suffered from bad management, frequent turnover and a lack of control over their day-to-day jobs and their careers.

Marrero knew he had to do something and that something was to get involved with his union, AFSCME Local 199.

“Most of your day is spent at work,” he said. “So I figured that instead of just spending the time complaining and wishing it would get better, I would actually do something about it.”

Born and raised in south Florida, Marrero understood the cyclical nature of the area’s economy and how that impacts county workers in everything from contracts to staff size, but he also knew that the union could be a positive force for change in both good times and bad. With the right support from AFSCME and a focus on the right goals, he knew his success at work didn’t have to depend on the economic roller-coaster.

“The shop steward at the time helped me understand how powerful we can be if we work together and stand strong for what we want. She kept me active over time and, thanks to her, I soon became shop steward myself,” he said.

Soon, Marrero’s department was flourishing. Turnover levels dropped, productivity rose along with job satisfaction, and new members were joining the union after seeing what Local 199 was all about.

Marrero decided to take his new passion for supporting his co-workers to the next level by becoming a union representative. Thanks to his hard work, along with his fellow representatives and member leaders, Local 199 is now much more present in the worksite, more active in helping members achieve their goals and in ensuring that help is never far away. 

The renewed focus paid off with a new contract last year that won back tens of millions of dollars in pay concessions relinquished during the economic crisis and even includes a wage increase, an end to furloughs and continued quality health coverage. And it is reflected in the more than a thousand new members that joined in the past year. 

“Local 199 is moving in the right direction to say the least but all this success really just has us wanting more,” said Marrero. “In many departments we are reaching a super majority of membership, but I want to see 100 percent membership across the county.”

Support Equal Pay for University of California’s Subcontracted Workforce

by Clyde Weiss and Todd Stenhouse  |  June 29, 2015

Support Equal Pay for University of California’s Subcontracted Workforce Hillary Clinton meets with AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger, UC Subcontractor Antonio Ruiz, Former UC Subcontractor Irene Su, UC Subcontractor Kin Kwong, and AFSCME 3299 Represented UC Berkeley Service Worker Maria Sonia Mucino.

AFSCME has long stood for pay equity – equal pay for equal work – especially relating to the need to close the wage gap between women and men working the same types of jobs. The same principles also hold true for the private contract workers (also known as "temporary" or “contingent” workers) employed at the University of California, many of whom perform the same duties as UC’s career employees but earn far less, and receive little or no benefits.

A solution is at hand, which we urge California state lawmakers to support. The bill, SB 376, would ensure that employees of private firms providing contract services to the university system are paid commensurate wages as career UC employees performing the same jobs. Its author, State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, recently wrote an opinion piece in The Sacramento Bee, from which we quote:

“Here’s the problem: These workers are paid by outside firms, not UC. And because of that, they are paid as much as 53 percent less as career workers doing the same jobs, with few benefits… At UC, this translates to private contractors taking millions of dollars in public money, imposing additional hidden costs onto taxpayers, endangering workers and driving more and more of them into poverty. And because these private contracts – often initiated under the guise of ‘meeting a temporary need’ – are routinely extended for years, it also means that there is nothing temporary about the problem.”

AFSCME Local 3299 Pres. Kathryn Lybarger, also an AFSCME International vice president, said raising the standards of private contractors that provide services to public agencies, including the University of California, “is the only way to combat the exploitation these practices make possible.” Local 3299 is UC’s largest employee union, representing more than 22,000 employees at UC’s 10 campuses, five medical centers, numerous clinics, research laboratories and UC Hastings College of the Law.

UC’s own Labor Center at UC Berkeley has reported that temporary workers are paid 22 percent less than career workers performing the same jobs. Mostly people of color, these workers are twice as likely to live in poverty and three times more likely to require some form of taxpayer financed public assistance, the report states.

“There is no reason that any public institution should be subsidizing business models built on a foundation of poverty and second-class treatment of communities of color. But it is happening, ironically, at the same institution that has been sounding alarms about the problem,” Lara wrote in his Sacramento Bee column.  “With SB 376 – equal pay for equal work for subcontractors at UC – we have a great opportunity to finally do something about it.”

On June 8, Lybarger and several subcontracted UC workers met with Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to discuss the hardships caused by UC’s outsourcing practices, and the transformative impact that SB 376 could have on thousands of workers across the UC system.

“With contingent labor growing at nine times the rate of career employment nationally, there is no question that the growing exploitation of subcontracted workers – particularly in the public sector – is a major contributor to rising poverty and income inequality,” Lybarger added.  “We are encouraged by Secretary Clinton’s sincere interest in this issue, and hope she will join us in supporting common sense reforms like SB 376.” 

Todd Stenhouse is communications director for AFSCME Local 3299.

Pennsylvania Family, Youth Services Workers Strike and Win

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  June 26, 2015

Pennsylvania Family, Youth Services Workers Strike and Win After 11 days on the picket line, Lackawanna County Family and Youth Services workers won the longevity pay and wage increases they sought for two years. (Photo: Melissa Matoushek)

More than 100 employees of Lackawanna County (Pennsylvania) Family and Youth Services took the ultimate step to go out on strike in May to demand respect in the workplace. After 11 days on the picket line, they won.

The workers attempted to negotiate with the county for two years. Tired of being walked on by the county, they voted to walk out May 14.  

The Lackawanna County Family and Youth Services employees lacked longevity pay; all other units in the county had longevity pay contractually. Also, their wages were much lower than in surrounding counties.

“Enough was enough,” said Mary Rose Moran, AFSCME Local 524 president. “They gave us no option but to take our fight to the street. We work hard, provide important services to the community and that work must be respected.”

After the AFSCME members voted down a tentative agreement that did not offer the longevity pay and wage increases they sought, the employer agreed to return to the bargaining table. At the next bargaining meeting, however, the county’s chief negotiator, County Commissioner Jim Wansacz, failed to show up.

“How much disrespect can a group of workers endure,” asked Kerri Gallagher, director of AFSCME District Council 87. “The brave women and men took their demand for respect to the streets and won.”

As part of the agreement to return to work, Local 524 members won their long-sought longevity pay and wage increases. “What happened in Lackawanna serves as an example of power for all people in Pennsylvania,” said AFSCME Council 13 Exec. Dir. Dave Fillman, also an AFSCME International vice president. “When we stand strong, we win. When we demand respect, we get it.”

Ohio Council 8 Activist, Labor Leader Marie Clarke Celebrates 100th Birthday

by Joe Weidner, AFSCME Ohio Council 8  |  June 25, 2015

Ohio Council 8 Activist, Labor Leader Marie Clarke Celebrates 100th Birthday As one of Ohio's foremost black female labor leaders, Marie Clarke distinguished herself during her long career not only within her AFSCME family, but also in the United Auto Workers Local 927.

Marie Clarke, an AFSCME Ohio Council 8 retiree who dedicated her life to working for equal rights in the workplace, celebrates her 100th birthday June 27.

As one of Ohio's foremost black female labor leaders, Clarke distinguished herself during her long career not only within her AFSCME family, but also in the United Auto Workers Local 927.

Her outstanding contributions to Ohio the labor movement were recognized in 1986 when then-Gov. Richard Celeste inducted Clarke into the Ohio Woman’s Hall of Fame.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, which administers the Hall of Fame, states on its website: “Marie Clarke is one of Ohio's foremost Black female labor leaders. She had the lifelong ambition to work for equal right in the work place for everyone.”

Clarke was instrumental in founding Columbus City Workers Local 1632 (AFSCME Council 8) and served on its executive board. Even in retirement she continued her labor activism as a member of AFSCME Retiree Chapter 1184

“When we say we are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, we’re talking about people like Marie Clarke,” said John A. Lyall, president of AFSCME Ohio Council 8, and also an AFSCME International vice president. “She knew the power of solidarity and was a great believer in direct action. Her accomplishments should inspire us all. We wish her a happy 100th birthday.”

“I have always felt that serving the public was a special kind of work. And I will always be proud to say I am an AFSCME member,” Clarke said.

Clarke began work as a mechanic in 1946, at the Columbus plant of Curtiss-Wright, then the largest aircraft manufacturer in the United States. A single mother, she was one of thousands of women who went to work in the factories while the men left to serve in the military. After the men returned, Clarke was one of the few minority women to keep her job.

As a factory worker she helped organize and recruit members into the United Auto Workers union. One of her first job actions was to address the disparity in washroom conditions. The men’s washroom had large round sinks where dozens of men could wash at one time. The women’s locker room had just a few regular sinks, and always had a long line at the end of the shift. 

Clarke used that time standing in line to organize and encourage the women to join the union. As UAW members, they successfully pushed management to provide equal washroom facilities.

By the end of her 22-year aircraft factory career, she was the first African American woman to be elected to the executive board of UAW Local 927. Although the union survived the company’s transition from Curtiss-Wright to North American Rockwell, Clarke moved on.

In 1969, Clarke began a 23-year clerical career at Columbus City Hall, and brought her union activism with her. However, she found that only sanitation workers were members of the city workers’ union, AFSCME Local 1632. When the union went on strike later that year, she supported the strikers, but could not be a part of the union, or participate on the picket lines.

After the strike, Clarke set about organizing her co-workers and building the union. She went on to become a proven and effective leader of AFSCME Local 1632 who was the “go-to” person on many issues. She was appointed to a series of ever more responsible union posts, and eventually was elected to serve on her local’s executive board. 

In 1980, she was elected the union’s secretary-treasurer, an office she held for 12 years. During that time the union kept growing, and today represents more than 2,000 city workers.

Clarke also was a member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) and the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW).

Riverside County, CA, Deal Would Improve Paramedic & EMT Pay, Patient Care

by Justin Lee  |  June 25, 2015

Riverside County, CA, Deal Would Improve Paramedic & EMT Pay, Patient Care Paramedics Ricky Rodriguez and Sam Maddaluna.

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. — Paramedics and EMTs in Riverside County have reached an agreement with American Medical Response that would provide 18 percent pay increases over three and half years, protect health insurance, and perhaps most importantly, create a professional practice committee to give emergency care professionals a voice in patient care issues.

The agreement with the nation’s largest private emergency medical services (EMS) company could usher in a new approach to running EMS systems by requiring managers to regularly consult with their licensed personnel on issues impacting patient care. For residents who may find themselves in need of emergency assistance, this would lead to better outcomes.   

“As the professionals delivering the care, we’re the best advocates for patients,” said Paramedic Ricky Rodriguez.  “With our professional practice committee, AMR has finally agreed to listen.”

Profit-driven EMS companies often implement what Rodriguez and his colleagues call a lean model of care. That often translates to outdated equipment, aging ambulances, an exhausted workforce and high turnover.  Securing a commitment from AMR to recognize and act on recommendations from front line professionals was a top priority during negotiations.

“I’m happy and excited that we’ve won a voice in shaping the way patient care is delivered,” said Paramedic Sam Maddaluna. “The county has said they want to have more input from actual field providers, and soon we’ll be able to speak with one unified voice to help shape policies and protocols.”

Members of AFSCME Local 4911 will vote on the tentative agreement in the coming weeks. In the meantime EMS professionals at AMR in Missouri and Arizona continue to bargain for a contract that would raise standards for their families and their patients. 

Get news & updates from AFSCME